Regardless of whether the match amounted to a win, loss or draw, the Union conveyed against San Jose on Saturday night that there is still a serious disconnect on attack.
With midfield newcomer Kai Herdling in and manager Peter Nowak out, serving the first of a two-match ban, the Union sputtered and as a result suffered a 2-1 loss in front of a visibly sparse, but announced crowd of 18,581 at PPL Park.
Gabriel Gomez scored his third goal of the season, assisted by second-half substitute Danny Mwanga. Gomez's celebration — snatching the flag of his native Panama from the River End and draping himself with it — was perhaps the only spark in what was an anemic offensive effort in the preceding 82 minutes of soccer.
Gomez's tally wasn't enough to nullify Union killer Steven Lenhart. This time in a San Jose uniform, Lenhart scored both, connecting his curly blond locks on a pair of point-blank headers in front of Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath. It was Lenhart's fourth goal against the Union, scoring a pair while a member of the Columbus Crew in 2010.
"He's just a beast in the air," said Union assistant John Hackworth, who filled in for Nowak. "He's got great height, his timing is good, and these are balls he sees every day in training and unfortunately we were on the end of two of them tonight."
The inclusion of Herdling brought a physical presence to the match, but again the offense sputtered to create chances and the mind-set of taking shots from distance still hasn't hit home.
In fact the Union didn't register their first shot on goal until the 30th minute when midfielder Michael Farfan — who looks increasingly comfortable playing behind the strike duo — ripped one from just outside the 18 that hit the crossbar of San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch.
"We need to combine and have that rhythm," said Hackworth. "Today, we were a little rushed, the ball would turn over and we tried to go right back down and that doesn't give [forward Lionard Pajoy] it doesn't give him enough time to get higher up the field. We are in a really tight space and we have to manage that better."
What the Union managed to do yet again was play a spirited defensive game in the back, fueled by rookie Raymon Gaddis at right fullback. Gaddis played shutdown soccer and looked comfortable in his third straight start.
Another positive was the continued stellar play from MacMath. The 20-year-old extended his scoreless streak to 408 minutes in part by making key saves, specifically in the first half when the zonal marking of the Union's generally stingy defense had gaps and San Jose took advantage. MacMath finished with six saves, four in the first half alone.
Additionally, San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski was virtually nonexistent on this night. Wondolowski, who entered the match with eight goals, the second highest count in MLS, registered just four shots, none of which threatened MacMath's goalmouth.
"I'm not really worried about a streak or anything like that, I am more frustrated that we could earn points out of this match," MacMath said. "Tonight, we played the best team in the West and specifically in the second half I thought we outplayed them, but both times it was a crowded [18-yard-box] and Lenhart managed to get his head on those balls and put them away."
Mwanga and fellow forward Jack McInerney were second-half substitutes and did provide much-needed energy. But offensively anemic is still the operative word when describing a Union club that has just four goals in seven matches.
"Not scoring many goals, it's lack of confidence in ourselves," defender Carlos Valdes said. "At the beginning of the season we didn't have a good start and we committed a lot of errors with the ball and that cost us points that today keep us at the bottom of the table. And obviously we don't want to make the same mistakes again. That's why we are lacking confidence with the ball. Everybody is trying to do whatever they can without risking. And sometimes in soccer you have to take this risks in order to get points."
Next up, the Union travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on Seattle on Saturday (4:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network).